One story shared by one family about a son’s death from an accidental overdose has spurred fundraising efforts exceeding $900,000 to establish a comprehensive alcohol and drug education and prevention center at the University of Mississippi.
The investments, UM leaders say, will impact the lives of countless students and drive research efforts to develop and improve best practices related to prevention and intervention. Alcohol and drug misuse is a serious concern on college campuses across the country.
Ole Miss student organizations — joined by companies, a foundation, alumni, parents and friends — have responded swiftly and generously to a grassroots campaign to fund the William Magee Center for Wellness Education, which will offer centralized education and advocacy, peer education programs, counseling and outside referrals, research and recovery support. The campus resource will be located inside a projected high-traffic area, the new 100,000-square-foot South Campus Recreation Facility (former Whirlpool site), opening during the 2018-2019 academic year.
The late William Magee, 23, was an accomplished, well-rounded student who excelled in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Croft Institute for International Studies, as well as lettered in track and was named to the SEC academic honor roll. After his 2012 graduation, he sought help through rehabilitation programs but relapsed after a concert with friends.
His parents, Kent and David Magee of Oxford, Mississippi, provided the inaugural gift and launched the fundraising campaign to strengthen resources and support to Ole Miss students. They have been speaking to groups about their son’s experience and the need for the center — which they hope will emerge as a model for world-class wellness education.
“We are moved by the support we have received from so many,” said Kent Magee. “We feel strongly that for this initiative to be most effective we need the involvement of all stakeholders, including student organizations, alumni and parents.”
Pushing the initiative closer to the $1 million mark was a recent $37,500 gift from the Tau Chapter of Chi Omega sorority and its House Corporation. In addition, the university’s crowdfunding platform Ignite Ole Miss started with a goal of attracting $100,000, but matching gifts from the Madison Charitable Foundation, Ole Miss Athletics and the M-Club Alumni Chapter sent the total climbing to more than $340,000. An $850,000 planned or deferred gift also has been committed to the Magee Center.
Shelton Wittenberg of Memphis, Tennessee, is leading Chi Omega this year and expressed the Tau Chapter’s support of the Magee Center.
“The Magee Center is a place that is going to change the dynamics of student support on the Ole Miss campus. It is going to have a positive impact on all students, including the Greek community, and as a chapter, Chi Omega recognizes the importance of personal development, especially during one’s college years. Chi Omega is delighted to support the Magee Center and its efforts to improve the availability of counseling and wellness education to students at the University of Mississippi.”
Beth Doty of Oxford, president of the Chi Omega House Corporation, said, “The idea of supporting the Magee Center was brought up at our board meeting recently because we have wanted to help address a real need in dealing with drug and alcohol use and abuse among so many college-age students and beyond. Our goal is to be part of the solution in dealing with this problem. Some of our members know and love the Magee family, and it was important to us to support the program.”
David Magee was touched by the gift: “When I heard that Chi Omega was making such a major contribution, with participation by the House Corporation and the chapter, I had tears of joy. Seeing leadership organizations on campus like Chi Omega show such care for the wellness of all Ole Miss students is inspiring and energizing. We have had many Greek organizations invest in making a difference with this alcohol and drug education initiative, and it is powerful.”
Fundraising efforts are continuing, with a goal of building the endowment to $1.5 million in the near future for the Magee Center’s operations. The university will host a biennial national symposium to bring thought leaders to campus to share their perspectives.
Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs, said that the strong positive response to fundraising efforts for the Magee Center indicates a broad recognition of the substance abuse issue not only with college students but throughout society.
“The Ole Miss community is deeply grateful for the generous contributions to the Magee Center over the short span of just 10 months,” she said. “We will steward these gift by finding solutions through an interdisciplinary focus with the mission of changing student behavior. A team is working with a corporate partner, American Addiction Centers of Brentwood, Tennessee, to tailor new educational components to college audiences. All investments in this effort will combine to transform lives.”
David Magee — president of Oxford Newsmedia and publisher of The Oxford Eagle and Oxford Magazine, and vice president of Boone Newspapers — first shared his son William’s story in August 2016, addressing incoming Ole Miss freshmen. It has now been read online by more than a million people. Read William’s story here.
The William Magee Center for Wellness Education is open to receive gifts from individuals and organizations by mailing a check with the center’s name in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655. For more information contact Brett Barefoot, development officer for parents and family leadership, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 662-915-2711.
By Tina Hahn